It's Time to Probe the Gaza Tunnel Fiasco

The failure of the army and government to address the threat of the tunnels from Gaza must be thoroughly investigated.

A Palestinian fighter from the Iz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades, the armed wing of the Hamas movement, gestures inside an underground tunnel in Gaza, August 18, 2014.

The Gaza tunnels have been a threat to Israel for at least a decade. Gilad Shalit was kidnapped through one in the summer of 2006, and since then, there has been an abundance of intelligence information concerning Hamas’ motivation to dig tunnels for operational purposes.

Along with this intelligence came findings on the ground: The discovery of shafts of long and winding tunnels stretching from Gaza to beyond the border of Israel. By the summer of 2014, the Shin Bet security service and the Israel Defense Forces had found 32 tunnels; their width and the equipment found inside them attested to operational goals more ambitious than moving an abducted soldier.

Against the backdrop of these findings, an investigative report in Haaretz by Amos Harel and Gili Cohen shows the extent to which the army and the government neglected to deal with the tunnel threat. Despite a special report on the subject prepared by Military Intelligence for the prime minister in 2013, despite the exposure of the tunnels in the media, among others by GOC Southern Command, despite warnings from various quarters, including the geologist and intelligence officer Yossi Langotsky – Israel took no real action to protect itself from the threat of the tunnels and to destroy them.

The incident in which 13 terrorists came through a tunnel near Kibbutz Sufa on the morning of July 17, the ninth day of Operation Protective Edge, caught Israel by surprise in terms of the extent of the threat.

Nor was the failure limited to the level of prevention. It also marked actions in the battlefield. Harel and Cohen’s investigative report revealed that on the night of July 17, IDF forces entered the Gaza Strip after their mission had been defined as dealing with the threat of the tunnels. The forces were given minimal information, a plan that was hurriedly put together and not based on organized battle doctrine and without enough equipment to demolish the tunnels. Most of the fighters were insufficiently trained or not trained at all for underground fighting. The picture that emerges from the report is that the army lacked updated information, was unprepared for the mission, and its actions were based on the initiative, heroism and personal sacrifice of the fighters.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon and IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz, who boast of the success of the Iron Dome missile interception system and claim that Israel scored significant achievements in Operation Protective Edge, cannot evade responsibility for the failure to deal with the tunnels. The IDF, which demands more and more additions to its budget, must explain how it failed to address this threat. An internal investigation by the IDF or a probe by the state comptroller, which Netanyahu announced would take place, is not enough. The Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, which is now discussing the failures of the war, must lead a true investigation of the tunnel fiasco — and not allow it to fade away or hope that it recedes from public interest.